The other day I went into the living room to see my kids glued to the TV even though it was thirty minutes past their bedtime. They were watching Shrek 2 on Japanese television, which surprised me because like most kids aged 12 and 10, they’d seen the movie on DVD about a jillion times. “But this is in Japanese!” my daughter said. “It’s so funny — Shrek is speaking Osaka-ben!” This is the dialect of Osaka, about as different-sounding to the ear from “standard” Tokyo speech as New York or Massachusetts English sounds compared to standard American English, defined as whatever the newscasters speak, since we don’t officially tie our language standard to a physical location like many other countries. Osaka-ben (or more accurately, Kansai-ben) is the dialect of laughter, and it seems that virtually all comedians in Japan are fluent in it; Tokyo’s dialect is much less colorful, more “we’re not gonna fall for the banana in the tailpipe.” The added flavor of the Osaka dialect added humor to Shrek’s jokes and made the film more interesting for Japanese viewers.
How you pronounce Appatomatox, the town where the American Civil War officially ended? Or Diplodocus, one of the largest dinosaurs to ever walk the Earth? These two words are among hundreds of others that are nearly impossible to say correctly until you’ve heard them spoken by others. “Pneumonia” was another hard one for me, and for some reason, it took me eighteen years to learn that you don’t pronounce the “p.” Although there are plenty of pronunciation issues in Japanese — it can be very difficult to read certain kanji characters, unique names of people or place names from Northern Japan, which usually derive from the Ainu language — at least words written in katakana can always be pronounced more-or-less spot-on because the system is syllable-based. I’ve heard many anime fans pronounce Evangelion with a soft “g” as in “angel.” While this is understandable given the abundance of angels in the series, the katakana doesn’t lie: the correct pronunciation is evan-GELL-ee-on, with a hard “g.”
Once again I’ve made the very long jump between Japan and the U.S., and have had to force myself to switch gears from “Japan” to “America” mode. I’ve flitted between the two countries so often that it becomes second nature, although driving on the other side of the street always takes some care — remember, always make sure you, the driver, are nearer to the center of the road than your passenger, no matter what country you’re in. Right now I’m attempting an experiment involving massive jet lag, a bottle of Bass Ale and some interesting color hallucinations. I’m in the U.S., of course, for the upcoming Anime Expo event June 29-July 2 in Long Beach, which is going to be a huge party. We hope you’ll be at the show, and look forward to seeing you there! If you can’t make it, remember that J-List is always online, operating 24/7 to make sure you never want for anything wacky or cool from Japan.